By: Graysen Martínez Ocasio/TRT Publisher—
The Hispanic Black Gay Coalition of Boston (HBGC), the brainchild of Corey Yarbrough and his life partner Quincey, grew from the need to foster an environment where LGBTQ people of color could “connect without feeling excluded.” Yarbrough confronted the isolationist situation when he embarked upon a journey to create a place where people of color would feel welcomed and accepted, without bias or question. Six years ago, he had the courage to tackle the disparity head-on via the HBGC. Unbeknownst to him, the founding of the non-profit suddenly placed him on the map and thrusted him into the spotlight as one of the city’s very select gay Executive Directors of color.
In delivering the HBGC, Yarbrough delivered peace, calm, and a place where others, non-mainstream LGBTQs, and allies, could feel welcome and at ease to start working for what they needed—right in the middle of Boston’s mainstream LGBT “social justice” movement.
Now, six years later, with a financially sound and robust HBGC, Yarbrough feels the time has come to move on. This one-on-one Q&A will let you see Yarbrough’s business instincts, serene but determined resolve, his unquestionable legacy, and even his emotional goodbye to the organization that saw him rise and triumph.
In this exclusive interview, Yarbrough does not think of the self. He takes it a step beyond and focuses on the collective and the organization’s steps, without him at the helm, just this time around. And, then he focuses on what’s next for him, personally and professionally.
Q. I’ll start by asking what many are interested in knowing immediately. Why are you leaving the HBGC now and not later?
A. [Playfully sighs, while pausing and softly smiling] I’ve been with HBGC for a little over six amazing years, since the founding of the organization in September of 2009. During those years, words cannot express what the organization means to me, and so many others. I used to often say “someone should do an event on this” or “someone should create a program that does this” and co-founding HBGC gave me, and so many others, the power to say, “Let’s actually make all these great ideas a reality.” There is so much beauty in seeing your dreams actualize and finding that others share many of those same dreams with you.
Although HBGC represented a huge dream of mine, I have many other ambitions that life is pulling me towards—ambitions that extend far beyond professional accomplishments or serving just as a leader in the LGBTQ community. Similar to how HBGC was once my life’s calling at one particular point, I feel, again, life is calling me in a different direction. Having the courage to answer that calling while trusting that you’ve helped to create a foundation that can last beyond you, it’s scary. But, I know following those intuitions can bring the greatest rewards. I see this transition as an opportunity to engage and be a part of my own community in a different way. Now is the ideal time to begin that transition because HBGC is the strongest it has ever been.
I’ve worked hard to grow the organizational budget from $0 to a $250K, with numerous multi-year grants to ensure the existence of the organization for years to come. We’ve expanded from living room gatherings to signing the lease on a 1,100 square foot office in downtown Boston. We have worked with consultants to develop a strategic plan and vision for the future. We’ve cultivated a diverse and talented board of Directors—including two dedicated co-chairs who have strengthened the governance and stability of the organization over the last two years. Ultimately, my departure creates space for another queer leader of color to stand in their light and grow as one of the few Executive Directors of color in the city of Boston.
Q. What gave you the idea to co-found the HBGC with Quincey J. Roberts?
A. [Reflective pause and tone] HBGC was co-founded, literally, from a ranting session over dinner about how isolating it was to live as a Black LGBTQ person in Boston. Quincey Roberts and I, early in our romantic relationship, would always talk about our experiences going to LGBTQ events in Boston. We had a similar story of feeling excluded and disconnected from the scene—particularly the social justice and advocacy part of the LGBTQ community here. From one of our conversations came the idea to do something about it. We realized that we both had unique experiences in the non-profit field (me in program management and him in fundraising) so we combined our talents and experience to create HBGC with a small group of friends (from both Black and Latino backgrounds—many of whom became our founding Board members) who wanted to see greater representation and leadership in Boston’s LGBTQ community.
Q. What is your proudest accomplishment as the HBGC’s ED?
A. [Eyes widen, tilts head, thinks] Too many to name, but what first came to mind was being in a position to employ others from the community. We hear the statistics all the time about how difficult it is for LGBTQ people of color to gain and maintain employment. So, to have HBGC play a small role in employing people from our own community who can come in and express their gender however they want, speak openly about their partners, and work to-wards a mission that acknowledges and empowers their full being makes me proud.
Q. How have you seen the organization grow under your leadership?
A. [Soft smile, almost symbolic of quiet confidence] HBGC has had tremendous growth over the last 6 years. With my team, I have helped grow the organization’s annual budget from zero to $250K. We’ve garnered multi-year grants that will ensure the existence of HBGC for years to come. Our space has expanded from living room gatherings to a 1,100 square foot primary office space in downtown Boston and a secondary satellite office inside Union United Methodist Church in the South End. Quincey and I would once work full-time jobs then go home and work into the night on HBGC. Now, we employ 5 individuals with a handful of interns and volunteers. The organization has grown from hosting forums discussing disparities, to designing and implementing programs to help address those disparities. We have worked with consultants to create a strategic plan to guide the organization’s work into the future.
Though there is still a long way to go, HBGC has gotten better at serving the full spectrum of our community by diversifying our staff and Board, launching HUES (HBGC’s program for queer and trans women of color), and hosting events that highlight the unique experiences of those further marginalized in our own communities.
Q. Is there something you wish you’d done before leaving? Can you explain?
A. [Raises his eyebrow, pensive, pauses] knowing my departure was on the horizon, there were many things I wanted to accomplish in 2015. I am thankful many of these things became a reality. Securing HBGC an independent office space, garnering the funds to hire a Program Director, diversifying our Board of Directors, and finalizing a succession plan are just a few. One thing I wish I could accomplish before my departure is doing more to make HBGC more linguistically accessible to monolingual Spanish speakers. Though some of HBGC’s programs and events provide simultaneous interpretation, I think it remains a major area of growth for HBGC considering the populations we serve. Thankfully, we have leaders who know the importance of making this a priority and as an organization, we have pursued funding to make this possible.
Q. Can you name a few experiences that you had as the ED working with the LGBT mainstream community in Boston? What did you get/learn from such interactions?
A. [Smiles] Through HBGC’s founding, I’ve had the interesting experience of watching agencies evolve in how they approach us. For example, some went from saying “Why are you trying to create this?” to “We really could use HBGC’s support and expertise!” So, over the years, I’ve learned that not only does Boston need an organization like HBGC but also the city relies on HBGC, and the many voices of Black and Latino LGBTQ people, to help address the social ills faced by the LGBTQ community. Given that need, I’ve also learned that as organizations and individuals of color, we must stand in that power and use it to the betterment of our community as opposed to being used and tokenized by it.
Q. Do you have any advice for the new ED?
A. Yes, don’t screw it up! [Laughs] Seriously though, I would advise them to stay rooted in the community and allow the voices of our communities to guide the work. It is so easy to get caught up in chasing grant funding or appealing to larger, more powerful organizations. Doing that may seem like the right thing to do, but it can often lead to Executive Directors losing focus on what those in the community really need or want. What makes HBGC so special is that all of our programs, events, and services (and how we execute them) have come from the brains of those we exist to serve—the power of the organization lies within that brilliance. Keeping a solid team around you who can remind you of that and hold you accountable when you forget is essential. Beyond that, I would say support yourself through self-care and proactively developing the skills of your team—investing in both will make your job a lot easier!
Q. Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
A. [Broad Smile] I think if you would have asked me this about a year ago, I would have rattled off my laundry list of ideal professional accomplishments or titles. I’m entering a new phase in my life where I don’t feel a need to be defined by those accomplishments. So, I’m going to answer this a bit differently. In 5 years, I want to be closer to my family. I want to be a dedicated and loving husband and father. I want to intentionally develop and appreciate meaningful friendships. I also want to be using my experience and expertise to inspire others to chase their dreams and be able to financially invest in the community projects I care most about. Oh, and of course, I want to be able to still attend HBGC events, sit somewhere in the back and just observe with a smile.
Q. What will Corey do now? For those who are interested in keeping in touch with you, where will you be or go to once you leave?
A. I don’t plan to completely disappear, but do want to shift my priorities to invest more of my time into my family and others I am close to. Running an organization is a tremendous sacrifice, especially for family members and loved ones, so I am excited about catching up on missed time there. Beyond that, I look forward to having the time to properly reflect on my next step. I feel fortunate to have an opportunity to write a new chapter in life. I plan to take the lessons learned and skills gained from the past six years and seriously think about what will bring me joy and fulfillment. Individuals can stay in touch with me via LinkedIn by searching for my name.
Q. Do we hear wedding bells for you in the near future?
A. [Laughs] Yes, with more free time will hopefully come more time to plan for a wedding! Quincey and I definitely have plans to tie-the-knot in 2016 surrounded by the people we love most. [pullquote]I want folks to see HBGC and my life as an example of what is possible when you pull the resources from your own community to provide for your community with pure intentions. I want folks to see me and realize that age can’t stop you, sexual orientation can’t stop you, race can’t stop you, even being a transplant to Boston, can’t stop you.[/pullquote]
Q. This wouldn’t be a TRT interview if we didn’t ask you to list three adjectives that describe you when you first started working at the HBGC, the first few weeks, and then 3 more that describe who you are today.
A. First Started: Gullible, Focused, Unknown. Now: Seasoned, Focused, Accomplished
Q. What was the most difficult moment you had to endure while being the HBGC’s ED?
A. [Sighing, slightly saddened and contemplative] A particular moment doesn’t come to mind, but, in general, the most difficult moments I’ve had in this position have to be attending certain meetings and see racism on the agenda and a part of the discussion. And, I mean racism in subtle ways—from trying to exclude certain communities from decisions that will be impacted by them to degrading the communities we’re in the room to create support services for, to trying to allocate funding in ways that ignore the demographics of a particular epidemic. Constantly debating which battles to pick and losing sleep over the ones I remained silent for represent my most difficult days.
Q. What was the most rewarding moment you experienced while being the HBGC’s ED?
A. [Exuberantly replies] Seeing the growth of people who have gone through our programs! I’ve met some youth as freshmen in high school who were fearful of being seen at our events and now, years later, they are completely out, in college, and involved in their community as leaders. To see that transformation and evolution is so inspiring and reminds me the hard work and long hours aren’t in vain.
Q. The interviewing of the Boston mayoral candidates was a very insightful project. Why did it only happen in that race?
A. The idea of interviewing candidates in the most recent mayoral race came from a desire for HBGC to get more involved in advocacy. At the time, we had been hosting annual advocacy days, but we wanted to do something that was more accessible and useful to the average person looking to make an informed decision about who to vote for. We saw it as an opportunity to educate community members on the role of the mayor, learn about where various candidates stood, and explicitly engage candidates on LGBTQ of color issues. Going into it, I was skeptical of who would entertain the idea of being interviewed by HBGC but 11 of the 12 candidates accepted the invitation. It is still one of my favorite projects executed by HBGC. Many of the candidates still keep in touch with HBGC and attend our events. Due to capacity and funding, we didn’t continue the interview series for other elections but given the historical significance of that particular mayoral election, I am glad HBGC could play a role in voter education and mobilization.
Q. What would white LGBTQ people and allies need to know or do to better serve the LGBTQ community of color?
A. [Without hesitation] Nothing. White people need to “do” less and create more space for LGBTQ people of color to lead, provide, and dictate how funding and resources should be allocated for disparities that impact their own communities.
Q. What is your legacy?
A. It’s so weird to be asked about your legacy at the age of 29 [smirks], but it’s definitely a blessing. I want my legacy, in terms of the LGBTQ community, to be that of self-empowerment and entrepreneurship. I want folks to see HBGC and my life as an example of what is possible when you pull the resources from your own community to provide for your community with pure intentions. I want folks to see me and realize that age can’t stop you, sexual orientation can’t stop you, race can’t stop you, even being a transplant to Boston can’t stop you. Obstacles will exist, but through honoring your truth, respecting others and embracing community there is the power to overcome and create anything. I want my legacy to inspire someone else to create or build on something that inspires the next person and so on. [pullquote]I will always be connected to social justice work, including the important, ongoing work to empower LGBTQ communities of color. It’s in my blood and tied to my own survival as a Black gay man.[/pullquote]
Q. What do you take away, deep inside, from this experience?
A. I take away a deep sense of gratitude from this experience. Not many people can say they’ve had the opportunity to essentially work for themselves by creating an organization for something that they believe in. More importantly, I am able to pass the torch to someone else who will be able to experience that joy. From this experience, I also take away a newfound confidence that I can do anything with the skills to truly make it happen.
Q. What do you say to the hundreds of people who will say, “We will miss you, Corey!”
A. [Sad face] To those individuals, I would say I will miss you too! I want individuals to know this was not an easy decision. It was a decision that took a whole year to definitely decide, and then an additional six months to prepare my leadership team for [it]. It is not one that was made emotionally or in haste. Instead, it is a decision that complements the growth and exciting future of the organization. I want folks to use it as an opportunity to celebrate the founding of the organization, the history of the organization, its tremendous growth, and its future. I hope individuals show their love and support for HBGC more than ever and rally around the fresh perspectives and ideas our interim Executive Director and incoming, permanent Executive Director will bring.
Q. Will you continue to be involved with the LGBTQ community of color after you leave the HBGC?
A. I will always be connected to social justice work, including the important, ongoing work to empower LGBTQ communities of color. It’s in my blood and tied to my own survival as a Black gay man. I’m looking forward to being able to connect to, and engage with, the LGBTQ community in many ways I couldn’t do so before. I also plan to continue to support HBGC in any way I can and definitely be present during the executive search and transition.
Q. What will be the process of selecting the new Executive Director?
A. My last day as Executive Director of the Hispanic Black Gay Coalition will be February 29, 2016. Starting in December, HBGC’s Board of Directors plans to conduct an extensive and thoughtful search for our next Executive Director. In partnership with Third Sector New England, HBGC will access the leadership needs of the organization and solicit individuals to apply and interview over a 4-6 month period. The Board will be sure to keep the mission and values of the organization a priority during this process. Beginning March 1, 2016, Eli Vivas has been selected to serve as Interim Executive Director until this process is complete. I am excited to support Eli, as a former volunteer and board member of HBGC, as he temporarily transitions into this important role. Eli’s dedication to HBGC over the years and his thoughtfulness to community inclusion and empowerment will serve the organization well during this transitional period.
For more information about the HBGC visit: www.hbgc-boston.org/.